Getting Involved in Academic Discourse: To Conference or Not to Conference?

By February 9, 2017Professional Development

Short Answer: Yes. But the most important part of any answer typically revolves around the why.


It is no secret that academic conferences have an air of exclusivity that deters most from getting involved. However, I’d like to debunk that myth. I attended my first conference as an undergraduate student at DePaul University. This conference was specific to my degree and hosted by and for DePaul’s Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse department. The conference seemed a scary prospect to me. I kept thinking about how I was just an undergrad, and couldn’t help but question why anyone would want to come hear me talk about rhetoric. However, after my submission was accepted, my nervousness turned to excitement. I arranged a presentation and shared it with my classmates and professors, the ladder of which have come to be something closer to my colleagues.


Some things I did not know then that I know now. The wealth of knowledge a field has to offer is only as strong as the field’s ability to create a culture of mentorship, with the purpose being to advance knowledge by adding new voices, new ideas, and growing the discourse or conversation. Everyone should be welcome.


Many of the peer tutors at the University Center for Writing-based Learning have a lot to say about what it feels like to attend, present, and submit to conferences. In the following section, you will see some commentary from those who wanted to share some words about why you ought to get involved in academic discourse, specifically through conferencing.


Peer Writing Tutor, Writing Fellow, and grad student, Marianne B. explains, “There is a difference, because as a presenter, moving from the position of receiver of information to provider of information allowed for helping the learning community forward toward a greater understanding of the issues involved in our practice. By assuming some responsibility for the outcome, I received more ‘right’ to be there: I got some skin in the game.” Marianne’s experience strikes me as a fairly common one—feeling that you don’t belong. This is typically called imposter syndrome, referring to the idea that you’re faking it. You aren’t! You belong. However, this sentiment is fairly common and pervasive until you take a chance and get involved.


Peer Tutor and Outreach Team Graduate Assitant, Eric H. explains, “Presenting helps you become part of the academic discourse within your school. It helps to make one feel like they are a legitimate voice in their field, which is something we are all striving toward.” However, nerves certainly contribute to the overall mystery surrounding conferences. This veil of mystery invites fear and ends up holding many important voices back from entering the conversation. The tough part is demystifying the conference, exposing what really happens there in order to usher in a whole new set of voices to an ongoing conversation surrounding the pursuit of knowledge.


I will close with this bit of inspiration from Eric H.: “Everyone in the room is rooting for you to succeed.”

This couldn’t be more true.

If you ever have any questions about or need help with any of these things you have a plethora of resources available—the University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) is at the top of my list. I do work here, but I truly find feedback from my peers on proposals encouraging, and extremely helpful.

So, the simple answer is yes—you should totally conference as much as possible, why you should conference is much more important.


Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Liz Coughlin says:

    Great ideas and points in this post, Nat! I’d add:

    To learn, to find models and ideas, attend as many presentations as you can — and go to different kinds of presentations, venues, etc., outside of as well as in your field. If you can’t afford your field’s major conferences, check out regional, state, local affiliates — don’t forget free lectures, openings, readings, etc.! At the end of a session stop by the podium at the end, if you can, and thank the presenters. . . .

    Experience, mentoring, and support help, so once you’ve acquired some experience, pay it forward! Invite someone to join you in a presentation, encourage them, give them feedback, and encourage them to help others. You’re never too young or inexperienced to do that, and helping others will help you, too. When they present — and when they have a mentee join their presentation, try to attend. Do this as often as you can throughout your career. There will be years you can’t help, but help when you can. This build community as well as knowlege and networks that contribute to the field.

    Thanks again, Nat, and all! All my best, Liz

  • Nat G. says:

    Thanks for your lovely comment Liz! As always your advice, mentorship, and just overwhelming kindness has always been invaluable to me. I couldn’t be more grateful to have had you and Lauri push me the last couple of years!